Ghoul of Halloween Past
Sam Hollis had driven most of the day and into the night trying to get home. His eyes were gritty from lack of sleep and his head kept nodding and then jerking to an upright position. When a rest stop exit sign appeared in his headlights at 10:30, he decided to pull in and sleep for awhile.
The I-10 rest stop was lit up like noon, so Sam backed into a spot furthest from the lights and reclined his seat. He cracked his windows an inch and settled in for a nap. Just before he fell into sleep an image of his former business partner and friend, Eric Marks, popped into his head. Eric’s funeral was the reason Sam was traveling on this late October night, and Sam couldn’t quite shake the feeling that Eric’s death was his fault. No, he hadn’t pulled the trigger, Eric had done that, but his suicide came hard on the heels of the end of their longtime partnership.
A scratching sound awakened him. Sam sat up, disoriented. Beside him, on the passenger seat, sat a man-sized rat.
“What the hell!” screamed Sam, scrambling for the door handle. The door wouldn’t budge, and Sam felt his heart banging against his chest wall.
“Relax, Sam,” said the rat. “It’s me. Eric.”
Sam screamed again and felt a liquid warmth spread across the front of his suit pants, “Just a dream, just a dream, just a…”
“No Sam. You’re not dreaming. This is Eric, and I’ve got a message for you from the other side.”
“Heaven?” gulped Sam. His heart continued to race and he thought a heart attack imminent. Oddly, the thought that he should have exercised more crossed his mind.
Eric laughed grimly. “Not exactly.”
“Look buddy,” the rat with Eric’s voice continued. “I’ve only been dead for three days and already it feels like eternity. But the big boss downstairs offered to lighten my torture if I could haunt you into following my lead.”
“You mean get me to kill myself?”
“Exactly. I mean, what have you got to live for? Marie’s about to leave you. You’re gonna get audited by the IRS this year. Your old man’s about to cut you out of his will.”
“Wait, you’re making this up. None of this is true.”
“Whatever. I’m out of here for now, but before the night is over you’re gonna have some visitors. Three of them. Once they’re through with you, you’ll be dying to join me.”
With a start Sam awakened. “Holy shit,” he said aloud. He cautiously felt the front of his pants and let out a sigh of relief. Dry. So it had been a nightmare. Shakily, Sam started the car and pulled back onto the interstate, anxious to put some distance between himself and the site of his dream. Glancing at the clock on the dashboard he realized he’d only been asleep for twenty minutes or so.
His mouth felt cottony and Sam decided to stop at the next town on his route to get some caffeine in his system. Already the nightmare had begun to fade. Sam shook his head and smiled at his own foolishness. “That’s what I get for eating greasy fast food after a funeral,” he thought.
At the Live Oak exit Sam located a mini mart and parked. Inside the store he grabbed a donut and poured a steaming cup of hot coffee. For good measure he grabbed a bottle of water and waited in line behind an elderly man at the checkout. The man was buying scratch off tickets and taking his sweet time.
“Give me two of them new ones,” the old man told the clerk. “No, not those, the ones next to them.”
“You want the ‘Devil’s Due’ game, old man?” the clerk asked.
“Might as well,” he cackled.”I’m deserving of it ain’t i?”
Sam cleared his throat and the man looked over his shoulder. “What’s your hurry. We all going to the same place.” he told Sam. “Least ways, you and me is.” Sam took a full step back as the man turned to face him. His white hair was long and stringy, his teeth yellowed from years of smoking. And damn! His breath smelled like rotten onions, slick with slime.
In a blink the old man grabbed Sam’s arm and transported the two of them out of the convenience store. For the second time that night Sam felt as if his heart was about to explode inside his chest. A high pitched scream emanated from his trembling lips as he and the ghoul, for that was what he must be, rose into the October night.
“You kept me waiting, boy,” the man growled. “You’ll pay for that, you will.”
Sam closed his eyes as he felt bile rise in his throat. His stomach fell as he and the old man dropped suddenly, landing with a thud.
“Open them eyes,” rasped the old man. “I said open them, now!”
Hesitantly, Sam dared a glance at his surroundings. “Whe-where are we?” he gasped.
“Where’s it look like boy?”
When Sam realized he and the old man were sitting on the topmost arm of an old elm tree he gulped audibly and steadied himself on the branch. One wrong move could send him plummeting to his death.
The old man growled, “it ain’t where we are, it’s where you used to be. Recognize the building down there?”
Sam looked down at the old three-story brick edifice. Every light in the building was on. At first, Sam couldn’t recall where he’d seen the building, then it came to him. Old Andrews Ward, the elementary school he’d attended in fifth and sixth grades.
Briefly, Sam forgot his fear. “My god! I remember this place. Eric and I met here when we were 10 or 11, but this old school was closed years ago. What’s going on here tonight?
“You’re seeing this place as it looked 47 years ago. Halloween 1967. You remember that boy?”
“I remember the carnival. Stupid kiddie games. Eric and I got kicked out for some reason.”
“That’s why we’re here,” the ghoul said. “I’m the ghoul of Halloween Past and you’re gonna get educated.”
The man wrapped his bony fingers around Sam’s arm and in a heartbeat Sam found himself inside the old school gymnasium. Black and orange crepe paper swags looped around the walls and festooned the booths set up on the edges of the room. Kids of all ages lined up to test their skills in tossing rings around bottles and scooping plastic fish from a tub of water. Kids bobbed for apples and had their fortunes told by a fake gypsy.
In spite of himself, Sam found himself grinning. He’d had fun here. That he remembered.
“See that girlie over there?” the man asked.
“Holy hell! That’s DeeDee Dunn!” gasped Sam. “She was the hottest girl in school. Eric and I both had the hots for her. We called her ‘Double D'”. For a second Sam’s memories made him smile.
“How about that girl?” the old man said, indicating a scrawny girl in the corner. “You ‘member her?”
When Sam saw the girl standing alone next to the far wall of the gym his face lost all color.
“Yeah, you know her all right. Little Scarlet Jackson.” The man’s evil grin turned on Sam. “You boys really taught her a lesson that night.”
Sam made an attempt to leave, but the old man held him firmly. “Yep, you and Eric got yourselves kicked out of the carnival that night. Just watch and remember.”
As Sam looked around the room he saw the 14-year-old versions of himself and Eric heading nervously towards DeeDee Dunn.
“Hey DeeDee,” crooned Eric. “Wanna come hang with me and Sam?”
DeeDee shook her head and gave the boys a polite, but vacant smile.
“Bitch,” whispered Sam. “She never even knew we existed. Thought she was too good for us.”
“Is that why you two turned over the table with the cakes displayed? asked the old man.
“We were just pissed off,” Sam said, watching his younger self help Eric heft the cakewalk table onto its side.
“But why did you two decide to mess with Scarlet?”
Sam watched he and Eric sidle up to pitiful little Scarlet, smiling like they had something good to tell her. “I don’t know,” Sam replied truthfully. “I guess we just wanted to take our moods out on someone.”
When the school principal came charging up to banish the boys from the carnival, Eric grabbed hold of Scarlet’s hand and pulled her out the door with them.
“I don’t need to see this,” said Sam.
“Oh yes you do boy.” The old man cackled. “You need to know one of the reasons why Eric took his worthless life.”
It started out sweet. Both boys lied to Scarlet, telling her how beautiful she was. Eager for any kind of attention, The girl quickly fell under their spell. Eric led the trio to the football field and underneath the bleachers.
“Really,” says Sam. “I remember. Please don’t make me watch this.”
The old man tightened his grip on Sam’s arms, forcing him to watch the attack on Scarlet. The two boys threw the skinny girl on the ground and ripped her clothes off. They taunted her with insults, calling her a skank and a lowlife.
Sam watched as Eric held Scarlet down and then threatened her life if she told on them. Eric stepped aside and gestured for Sam to take a turn. But Sam shook his head, “no.”
“I didn’t do anything!” screamed Sam.
“You sure didn’t,” cackled the old man.”Not a damned thing.” He lunged for Sam, his clawed fingers poised to rip and tear.
Tomorrow–the ghoul of Halloween Present.